Montreal police say they've increased patrols in several neighbourhoods with large Jewish populations as a "preventive" measure after several antisemitic incidents.
Police said in an email Thursday they're aware of threats against the Jewish community and they've increased their presence in the neighbourhoods of Côte-Saint-Luc, Côte-des-Neiges, Mont-Royal, Outremont and Plateau-Mont-Royal in an effort to ensure people feel safe.
Mitchell Brownstein, mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, a Montreal suburb that has a large Jewish community, said he's calling on other municipal leaders to speak out against antisemitism.
Brownstein joins other politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who this week have denounced antisemitic incidents in the city that have been linked to tensions in the Middle East.
"All the leadership on both sides needs to, whatever your political opinions are, agree with the values of Canada, and the values of Quebec and denounce intimidation, prejudice, antisemitic remarks," he said in an interview Thursday.
Brownstein said two men were arrested Monday night after they drove into Côte-Saint-Luc and allegedly yelled anti-Jewish comments at people. He said there have also been hateful comments posted online. He noted his office has also received reports of incidents that turned out not to be antisemitic.
"There are people in my community that are concerned," he said. "I feel terrible when I hear people say that they're afraid to outwardly show that they're Jewish."
Brownstein said he met with police on Thursday and was told that the threat of anti-Jewish attacks is low, but that police are ready to protect residents. He said police told him that they're investigating online posts.
Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount said she thinks denunciation of antisemitism from political leaders sends an important message.
She said her synagogue has added extra security even though the pandemic has forced the cancellation of in-person services. "There's some concern about people walking around and potentially being subject to attack, so it's definitely not a great situation right now," she said in an interview Thursday.
Grushcow said she doesn't think there's any need for people to panic, but she said she sees an "upswell in antisemitism" — including posts on social media, as well as violence at rallies about the situation in Israel and Gaza.
"I certainly wouldn't say that any opposition to Israel is antisemitism, and that's important, but I also think it's important to notice that ... it can be a pretty permeable line," she said. "So if you have people being attacked as Jews at an Israel rally, you've got to be able to call that out for what it is."
Eta Yudin, the vice-president for Quebec at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the Monday night incident in Côte-Saint-Luc was "the first hint that I had that things have definitely gone too far."
"This is not OK, when my kids are asking me is it OK to walk home from school? Is it OK to be outside? This is the first time in my lifetime that we're living an experience like this as Jews in Canada," she said in an interview Thursday.
She said that addition to hateful signs and vandalism at a protest on the weekend, her organization has seen "a tremendous amount" of antisemitism on social media.
Aaron Lakoff, a spokesman for Independent Jewish Voices, said "attacks against Jewish people, just because they're Jews, here in Montreal, or anywhere, for that matter, needs to be denounced. It has to be stopped."
But he worries that legitimate criticism of the Israeli state is often conflated with antisemitism.
"People who are going out and protesting Israel's actions aren't doing so out of hatred of the Jewish people, they're doing so out of love for human rights and a love for justice," he said in an interview Thursday. "Let's recognize antisemitism when it happens, and let's call what it is, but stop conflating it with people speaking out in support of Palestinian human rights, or people denouncing Israeli apartheid, or denouncing the occupation of Palestine, which is absolutely not antisemitism."
Lakoff said he believe there has been an increase in antisemitism in North America that's linked to the rise of far-right populism and white nationalism.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press